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Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC, player ratings: All hail Stefan Frei

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Sounders goalkeeper made a season-high seven saves in a shutout.

MLS: Sporting KC at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Whew. That was something, huh? The Sounders’ 1-0 win had everything – plenty of shots, lots of open play, crushing tackles, dramatic refereeing, and a late winner for the home team. Sporting Kansas City has always been a tough matchup for Seattle, and their style of negative soccer just tends to frustrate the Sounders attempts to play a bit more free-flowing game. Riding fantastic goalkeeping coupled with opportunistic set piece play Seattle had a number of chances to score that went wanting, instead relying on a late game surge to score the only goal of the match.


KEEPER:

Stefan Frei – 10 (MOTM) | Community – 9.2 (MOTM)

I was trying to figure out what more Frei could have done to earn a 10, when I realized that he was as good as you can hope a keeper to be. Stefan did it all, from making fantastic diving saves to keeping his team in the game long enough for someone to grab a winner. Frei REFUSED to be beaten on the night, and played at a very high level throughout the game. He was the difference for the Sounders. I had zero negative marks on the evening.

Frei started off aggressively, in the 5th minute getting off his line well to get a ball, something he repeated in the 59th. In the 8th he came up huge to stop a Paulo Nagamura shot, diving to his right and parrying the try. Two minutes later it was again Nagumura finding space and putting in an attempt that Frei could stop, and when the rebound ended up at the foot of Graham Zusi, Stefan covered the post on a shot that went just wide. These were two HUGE saves on likely goals against a lesser goalkeeper, either of which would have completely changed the game. In the 33rd Stefan made a reaction save on a flicked free kick before getting off his line to grab a through ball at the edge of his box.

Frei was just as exceptional in the second half, directing traffic and keeping his defense compact in front of him. When called on to make a tough save through traffic in the 62nd on a Seth Sinovic shot, Stefan was up to the task, pushing the well-struck ball over the bar. When Benny Feilhaber slalomed through the defense in the 80th, it was Frei who saved the day, stopping the potential go-ahead goal from scoring with a simply marvelous kick save. This was a perfect save, where he covered the angles expertly, forcing the shot back across goal and parrying with his leg.

Stefan wasn’t done, closing out the game with familiar aggressiveness, coming out to catch a long Matt Besler throw-in in the 92nd before closing out the game with a 94th minute retrieval of a cross into the box. Frei was just magnificent.

DEFENSE:

Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.6

Joevin had a very quiet game against SKC, and I even tweeted during the game that I wanted Seattle to get Jones involved. With Saad Abdul-Salaam staying home and Feilhaber roaming, there was a lot of room that the Sounders weren’t taking advantage of through the Jones/Fernandez combination. Although Jones was overlapping, there weren’t a lot of chances created until late. When he finally did get involved, Joevin was a handful, as evidenced by his two key passes and his assist on the game winning goal.

Throughout the first half Jones was active, but he got caught up field in the 8th and didn’t hustle back. He should sprint back to get goalside and not allow KC players to be open on the back side (even if Nagumura shot instead of making a pass to the open man). Two minutes later he was late to rotate to Nagumura, and this put undue pressure on Frei to make the big save.

Other than a few bad touches, Jones was quiet in this game. He did make a nice cross attempt in the 28th minute that was a precursor to his 88th minute service. This last play was a good illustration of knowing your role on the team. Joevin received the ball, took a touch around a defender and put the ball where the striker should be, and was.

Chad Marshall – 8 | Community – 7.0

Chad dominated play from the back, constantly removing Dom Dwyer from attacking areas as well as sliding in behind a struggling Torres. There were three examples in the first 20 minutes: in the 8th he stepped across, forcing Nagumura to take an outside shot and partially cutting off Dwyer from a passing option. Marshall repeated that two minutes later, and in the 17th he again came across to cover for Torres who had left Nagumura.

A few minutes later it was comical to watch Marshall dominate Dwyer three times in succession, heading over him, wrapping his leg around him, and continually denying possession from the KC striker. Chad wasn’t just dominating the defensive end, he was a constant menace on set pieces. In the 26th he just missed scoring on a header from a free kick. Four minutes later Marshall rose up to win a header that was cleared off the line, only to be whistled for a foul. He also was called for a foul on Dwyer after he was beat, but his slide tackle looked clean.

Chad had less to do in the second half, with Seattle shoring up some of the defensive issues and denying as much service through the middle. He continued to play solid positional defense and rotate into space when Jones pushed up to support attack. There was a bad communication moment between Joevin and Chad in the 93rd, with Marshall challenging Jones for a header that was mis-cleared, but otherwise the defensive left was stout. Even though Marshall had a very ordinary 61% passing completion rate, he crushed the defensive stat line, with six interception and eight clearances, which are fantastic numbers.

Román Torres – 5 | Community – 6.1

The Torres/Mears combination in the first 20 minutes was a disaster. In the 5th Roman chinked a ball forward for a turnover, something he repeated in minute 20. In the 8th he presented an awful pass forward that was right to Feilhaber. This pass came without duress, and the SKC midfielder immediately created a huge chance. In the 12th Torres again struggled with distribution, missing Roldan by a mile. In the 15th a bad control was stolen by Dwyer, and he capped off this awful first portion of the game by chasing the ball and leaving Nagumura open for a return pass, which was promptly turned into a spectacular Frei save.

Perhaps these struggles were nerves, or dealing with a right back who was also having a rough go, or SKC’s press. Maybe some of each, but it’s notable that SKC successfully pressed Torres into making early mistakes. After he settled down, Roman found Flaco in the 25th with a long ball, and his passing for the rest of the game was solid at 76% for the game, including 7/13 long balls.

Where Torres once again left his mark on the game was set pieces, running rampant throughout the match. It wasn’t just headers, in the 48th Roman was found playing right winger, and he even put in a nice little cross from wide. A most typical play happened in the 57th, finding space with a late run into the box and just miss-hitting an open volley over the goal. I thought he had found his scoring touch in the 83rd, when he somehow missed an open net with a left footed touch on the back post from a set piece service that was flicked to him.

Although Torres was much improved in the second half, he did flail on Feilhaber in the 80th, which helped create a 1v1 situation that the SKC man was unable to capitalize on him (because....FREI).

Tyrone Mears – 4 | Community – 5.7

Bad Mears was back in this game, showing up in the 3rd minute. Friberg headed him the ball with space to run up the wing and instead he headed it back to the center of the field. This trend of failing to utilize width going forward is distressing when analyzing Tyrone’s play. Like Roman, he made poor plays in the first 20 minutes, with mistakes in the 5th, 10th, and 12th all leading to turnovers.

Unfortunately, unlike Torres, Mears didn’t improve much, continuing to chunk speculative balls forward and failing to support and connect with Roldan at all. In fact, this combination up the right consistently struggled, with little chance creation or possession. Mears did use a long throw-in play in the 23rd, and his overlapping run to the end line with a cutback pass in the 24th was stellar.

It looks like Tyrone was supposed to mark Besler in the 53rd (offside goal) and it was annoying to see him whiff on Feilhaber in the 80th. I was even more annoyed to see him casually jog behind the play as Benny tested Frei from the six. On the night Mears failed to have a single accurate cross; one in the 67th and two in the 88th were easily headed from danger. At this point I’d be happy with Mears playing up to MLS-average level, something he is only intermittently capable of.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD:

Osvaldo Alonso – 5 | Community – 7.0

Alonso was not impressive against SKC. Coming in with something to prove from missing the last meeting, originally Ozzie looked strong. In the 1st he stepped tight to Feilhaber and forced him back, and a few minutes later he won a ball at midfield that kept the Sounders attack on the front foot.

After this he struggled, from allowing Mustivar too much space in the minute four to covering Zusi wide in the 6th. On both plays, Ozzie went to ground to slide tackle, and he dangerously over-utilized this tactic all night. In the 8th I noted a lack of hustle from Alonso, failing to cover a Nagumura run right down the gut in the channel behind him. Two minutes later Ozzie again played futile chasing defense on Nagumura, who rushed right down the middle behind him.

In the 31st Alonso got tangled with known instigator Roger Espinoza, and thought he was fouled. On the replay, I didn’t see a foul, it looked like a good play from the opponent. Alonso took exception, though, and tried to use his leg as a saw and chop down Espinoza immediately after, on a foul that could have easily been red for how late and how severe the tackle was. He earned a yellow for this play, but that didn’t slow him down. For the next 30+ minutes he played his regular speed, and this got him in potential trouble in the 68th. With Feilhaber sneaking out on a delayed break, Alonso slid in and kicked the ball out of bounds, looking to get some of the away team captain as well. Ignoring the pleas of SKC coach Peter Vermes, the referee awarded a Sounders throw.

I don’t think the play was a red card, and it’s borderline yellow for me based on intent. What bugs me, though, is he had cover, and he knew he was on a yellow; why take that chance and allow Feilhaber to drag a leg and try to get him booted? Alonso has not shown very good judgment the last few games, and that is worrisome as we head forward with him holding a yellow.

Erik Friberg – 6 | Community – 5.9 (off 79’)

Friberg was quiet in this game, not hitting my notebook a ton but generally moving a lot and adequately filling the role next to Alonso. He did have a key pass, but otherwise looked wide and controlled more than direct and dangerous. When he did look forward he had some success, finding Nico a few times in advanced position.

Without a lot of strong wing play, Friberg was mostly a defensive shadow to Feilhaber and company in the middle of the field. It was great to see Erik bust his ass to try to cover Sinovic on his 62nd minute shot over the bar, and at the very least Friberg was active. He consistently covered for Alonso, who was prone to wandering more than normal this game. We know what we are going to get from Erik, and while he rarely exceeds our expectations, he also manages to be a solid destroyer support.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD:

Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.4

Coming off some very high ratings the last few weeks I had expectations from Roldan’s performance, and frankly they weren’t met. Not because Cristian played poorly, he just failed to impact the game at all, especially in the first 70 minutes. He was baited into playing handbags with Feilhaber in the 10th, and a few minutes later he worked a ball through to Friberg, but otherwise Roldan was quiet. It was quite easy to forget he was on the field.

This remained until the Sounders later changed their formation, bringing Roldan back to pair with Alonso and keeping Friberg as the tip of a midfield triangle. Cristian looked much better travelling the midfield channels than he did playing winger. He likely has a goal if Fernandez finds him in the 25th, as he had great position on Sinovic for a 1v1 with the keeper should that ball get put through. When Roldan came all the way across the field in the 29th to support, he immediately looked better in the middle and Seattle created a scoring chance.

Alvaro Fernandez – 5 | Community – 5.9 (off 86’)

Alvaro was up and down in this game, doing some very effective things and showing good movement, but also struggling in possession.

In the 6th he got forward off a nice play, but then lost possession. He lost possession again five minutes later, being pushed off the ball easily by Salaam. After earning a 17th minute foul by stealing a ball in transition and turning it forward, Flaco was again too easily dispossessed on the wing. I wasn’t too impressed with any connection with Jones during this game, but Alvaro won a lot of headers and flick-ons that found Morris or Nico, bringing them into the attack.

Two big plays defined his night: The first, a 25th minute combination play with Lodeiro saw Alvaro free on goal with the option of pulling the trigger from 18 yards out, dribbling unmolested into the box, or passing to an open Roldan deep inside the box. Fernandez chose option D, backheeling the ball in traffic towards Nico. The second play was a beautiful flick back post on a set piece, rising well and able to push the ball to the second post and into the path of a wide-open Torres, who unfortunately missed. I was surprised to see Flaco play so long, as he was ineffective in the second half other than a few spot plays.

Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.1

Being triple teamed and hacked all night (what else is new?) Nico could continue to push his team forward, although his passing rate was uncharacteristically low. I loved seeing him get three shots, as well as come up with three key passes. He constantly looked to spring Morris, and when those passes were covered he did well to spray them wide looking for wings to make smart runs.

This was one of Nico’s best defensive games, constantly gumming up the middle and as always working very hard to support the midfield defense. This started early, and his 11th minute steal led to a combination with Friberg going forward. As usual, Lodeiro found Morris in space multiple times, and it was his backheel flick that beat a defender in the 24th while leaving Fernandez wide open with the ball on the top of the 18.

Nico got knocked around a lot, and had a few mistouches or errors on passing forward, but continued to push while never looking tired. His set piece service was exemplary (aside from a 64th minute free kick) and Seattle threatened on almost every dead ball. After a nice corner in the 22nd the ball popped out to Nico who tiptoed the end line and almost forced an own goal. In the 67th and 73rd Lodeiro got penetration and got crosses in after beating the trap. It was a somewhat quieter game from a direct standpoint, but or #10 was huge in running the show, popping up here and there to support both sides of the ball.

FORWARD:

Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 6.4

The central pairing of Besler and Ellis were very strong in forcing Morris wide, and he struggled to get anything accomplished, only managing one shot in the game.

Jordan did well to hold the ball up, but with ineffective wing play at times he got lost in the offense. Credit is due to the SKC defense, who did a great job in muddling play up and beating Seattle down every time they looked to play pretty soccer. I did like Morris getting in behind in the 29th to earn a corner and his late game holdup brought both Nico and Jones into play on separate occasions. Morris ends up on an island against teams when the Sounders are ineffective on the wing. Too often his runs were good but didn’t receive the right service or when he looked up there was no one crashing the box to take advantage of his movement. That being said, a striker should do better, and at times he faded into the background, preferring to get caught up in some of the physical play instead of working back to work 1-2’s with the midfield.

SUBS:

Nelson Haedo Valdez – 8 | Community – 8.0 (on 78’)

How many times have I said it? Valdez came on and did what he does well. He wins set pieces, makes good runs, holds up play, and opens Morris into space. Valdez immediately won a free kick in minute 80, and four minutes later he made a great run up the wing only to cross the ball diagonally back from the end line without any supporting runs.

In the 88th minute Nelson held the ball up, and recycled possession. This was huge because he was heading the ball in the back of the net for the game winner mere moments later. His movement on this play was tremendous, diving near post early before following the ball and sealing Besler off before he scored. Valdez’s positioning here was perfect; holding the defender on his back enabled him to attack the header and score. He wasn’t done there, showing up in the 90th to pressure and win a throw-in before getting back on defense and heading away a long Besler throw in the 94th.

I love the passion Nelson plays with, and it’s notable that coach Ante Razov sprinted off the bench at full time to embrace this embattled player. All the coaches have seen how hard he works, and they shared in his joy at finally putting the ball in the back of the net. Let’s hope this is the start of a great run of finishing form.

Brad Evans – 5 | Community – 6.2 (on 86’)

Evans didn’t do a ton, but it was interesting to see the Sounders go into a diamond midfield when he entered. It’s also worth pointing out that his movement and size helped create several mismatches, one of which allowed Valdez to get position for his goal. I would prefer to see a late sub be more active, and I’ll be curious to see where/how Evans is deployed this weekend.

REFEREE:

Ismail Elfath – 3 | Community – 4.7

I don’t even know. I don’t want to write a thousand words about the ref, even though there are notes to do so. Here’s a synopsis: exactly what everyone feared from this referee came to pass. He was lenient early, allowing physical play to escalate an already intense game. When he did start to assess fouls, he failed to utilize the cards provided to emphasize his control, creating a situation that both teams struggled with. He didn’t card for repetitive fouls and this led to huge issues.

Where’s the card for a deliberate 12th minute stomp from Zusi on Jones? How come an Espinoza head shot to Friberg didn’t warrant a yellow? Speaking of Erik, how did Friberg get away with two tactical fouls in the 51st minute, with neither being a card? How was Dwyer going through Marshall behind the play in the 60th not a card?

There MUST be more cards given out in a game like that. For example, Espinoza had seven fouls committed (three called) and Feilhaber had nine (five called). At what point is it persistent infringement? How did Benny get a “final warning” in the 24th, complete with counting out multiple fouls, and then receive this EXACT same warning in the 54th after a harsh foul on Alonso. That’s poor refereeing. 5 fouls by one player is too many to not receive punishment.

I agreed with the Alonso yellow and the no-call on Alonso’s “foul” on Feilhaber. This second play has been exhaustively discussed, but was completely correct based on a previous (minute 25) foul from Mustivar on Alonso in almost the exact same spot. Mustivar got the ball, but came through Alonso with much more contact than the later play – a throw-in was called that time as well. Seeing Feilhaber drag his back foot to initiate contact and dive was even more justification for me.

The refereeing squad isn’t just the center, and I noticed live that the north end AR was much better at his job than the Brougham, which came to roost in the second half to the Sounders’ advantage. After horribly botching a 64th minute throw-in call in SKC’s favor as well as a 67th minute offside on Morris, it wasn’t surprising to see this same southern AR miss the offside on Valdez’s goal. On the flip side, the “good” AR correctly called Besler offside.. This linesman was consistent, raising his flag for a similar play in the first half where a Sounders player started off in an offside position and Torres ran onto the play late to head on goal. You’ll be surprised to hear that I acknowledge Ricardo Salazar for his correct call as fourth official on the Alonso sideline tackle. With the memory of this Seattle/SKC game, maybe it’s risky to have Salazar ref the center on Sunday, but in this league right now, we could do a lot worse.

SPORTING KC MOTM:

Another pretty clear decision here. Despite his antics, Benny Feilhaber was incredibly active in this game, and came the closest to besting Stefan Frei at close range. Nearly 70 percent of 344 votes went to Benny.


One down; five to go.